How to make great coffee at home
by Gaz Poole on May 29, 2022
I'm sure we all know one of those people. The ones that obsess over the smallest of details when it comes to coffee: weighing beans, controlling temperatures, timing...everything. If you don't know one of those people, then, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this: it's you.
But that's okay. In fact, you probably already know how to make great coffee at home. For the rest of us, here are a few hints that might just raise your home coffee making game.
Is it really that complicated?
The cowards answer to this one is "It depends". The real answer is "It can be as complicated as you want it to be." If you love the taste of the coffee that you make by boiling up the beans in a pan on the stove for half an hour, you're already there. It would be a method that would cause the 'Coffee Scientist' to pass out with rage, but we're talking about personal taste here. You are the judge.
Does coffee have to be complicated?
Imagine someone explaining to you how to boil the perfect egg. Room temp egg in cold or boiling water? Lid on or off? 2-minutes or 3 or 4 or 3:24? Weigh your water? We accept this level of detail when it comes to getting a perfectly runny yolk, why should we baulk at this when it comes to handling the delicate flavours waiting for us inside every bean?
Some methods are simpler than others. Espresso based drinks have the potential to be more complicated, but they don't need to be. In essence, it's really simple. Water dissolves coffee flavours. More water extracts more flavours. Not all flavours are 'nice' flavours, so we only want to pull out the ones we like. This means using the right amount of water for the amount of coffee we are using. The easiest way to measure these two things is by weighing them. How much and for how long will come down to your own tastes, the brewing method, and the coffee you are using (some experimentation may be required).
The key to making great coffee at home is gaining control: being able to tweak things in the direction that we would like.
What gear do I need?
Ah! Gear. Buying coffee toys is almost as addictive as the caffeine we love. But, if you can keep your spend-lust under control, you don't need much. Here are three levels of stash to suit a good range of gear lovers:
I DON'T RECOMMEND POD-BASED MACHINES: HERE'S WHY
A great place to start is with the Hario V60. This allows you to make a great tasting cup of coffee and is so simple and inexpensive. To keep things super simple, buy your fresh roasted coffee pre-ground to avoid the need for a grinder. Grinding fresh when you need it is better but this will still be a superior cup of coffee to instant or pods. The quality of the grinder is just as, if not more, important than the quality of the brewing machine. If the grind is poor, the coffee will be poor. Check out THIS hand grinder in our shop.
In addition to the Hario V60 dripper set, all you would need would be a kettle (standard kitchen version will work fine) and some scales to accurately measure your coffee and water.
For a little bit more investment, the AeroPress also offers a great cup of coffee. It could be argued that the AeroPress method is even simpler than the V60, but neither is complicated. Also, if you like coffee with a little more body to it, check out a Moka Pot.
- Best compromise:
If espresso-based drinks are where you want to be, I would recommend one of the manual espresso makers like the Rok or Flair. These are more cost-effective and smaller than a counter top espresso machine. The compromise is that being consistent in your results takes some practice, and preparation times can be longer. But, when you get it right, it's a superb cup of espresso. These methods require a separate milk steaming/frothing setup if you are making white coffee espresso drinks.
You could again avoid the need for a grinder by asking us to pre-grind for you. But, Rok produce a brilliant (and matching) manual grinder that can grind any size from espresso to French press / V60 pour overs. There is also this travel sized hand grinder in our shop. For making espresso, it would also be good if you had access to scales and a timer like THIS one. Your standard kettle will also work well for these machines.
- Top Tier Gear:
If you're getting this far, you're really getting serious about your espresso-based drinks and I would very much like to come over to your place for a coffee. A dedicated machine will make things more consistent and reduce the preparation time for both coffee and milk frothing.
As mentioned above, the quality of the grinder is more important than the espresso machine (in general). With that in mind, my Top Tier pick for grinder would be the Niche Zero. This offers great control and will grind a single dose whenever you need it. It is also described as "Zero retention" - meaning that almost all of the beans you put in, come out as grinds. So, you can swap beans back and forth without old grinds contaminating your next cup.
With the grinder sorted, we need an espresso machine. One of the best compromises in terms of quality, price, size and simplicity is something like the SAGE Bambino Plus or Gaggia Classic Pro. These are in the £400 - £500 range and come with steam wands for steaming and foaming milk as well as the 'proper' portafilter for loading with a coffee of your choice (you got fresh roasted right?). You might have luck and find a second hand machine for a smaller investment.
Variety needs variety
Now that you're in the world of fresh coffee, you can choose from MANY different bean varieties, origins, roast levels, blends... That is one of the great things about using beans (as well as the amazing flavour). With that choice, there comes a need to be flexible in your coffee brewing recipes. To get the flavour you're searching for, from this new bean you've discovered, you're going to want to tweak and change things. Having a setup that allows you to really get the best from the bean. This is a different world to the insert pod, press button, buzz, cup 'o' brown, chug. Even some of your first coffee pours, using the simplest method and gear, will be beyond anything that comes from a pod or instant brew. Especially when using freshly roasted beans. If this is your first time, I'm excited to tell you: "You've never made coffee this good before".